Constructing a Diet

Growing up in a white-collar household in suburban Long Island, I never knew much about manual labor. Of course I had to rake leaves and pull up weeds from a garden that only seemed to grow zucchinis, but a river of sweat running down my armpits wasn’t exactly how I envisioned earning a dollar in my future career.

My perspective on blue-collar workers, beyond ignorance to the jobs they perform, was always respectful. I appreciated never having to lift a finger for my success; I would just leave it to “the other guys.” Of course, that all changed when I met my current boyfriend, a union laborer. After our second date, he quickly became a foreman, and he called me his good luck charm.

fish, water
Jessica Murphy

However, the Luck of the Laborer wore off shortly, at least in my upper-middle-class eyes. He needs to get to bed by 9:30 pm and wakes up at 4:30 am; the life he leads essentially makes him go to work when the sun hasn’t risen yet and leave when the sun sets.

He relaxes in the dark and works in the light. Besides the bleakness of his time schedule, there’s also the grueling reality of a poor-man’s diet. And by “poor” I essentially mean that the diet he has is, quite frankly, terrible.

Too Few Cooks

He loves food —and makes a mean salmon fillet at that —yet he’s reduced to chowing down on buttered rolls, fast-food sandwiches, and, perhaps most horrific, day old sandwiches from a sketchy lunch truck.

Jessica Murphy

When there’s no time to pack a meal in the morning and no time to cook a whole week’s worth of food at night, the tradesmen in his field are starved beyond complaint. “It’s just the nature of the job itself,” he tells me. No blame can be made towards the job site, just the circumstances.

I began to grow very concerned. These men and women work in dangerous conditions, providing services for the backbone of this society, and can’t even get a decent meal each day. I started to wonder if such conditions could impact the standards of the work being done, or if there is anything that can be done to improve the eating situation of these workers.

The Q and A

I decided to ask my boyfriend and his colleagues some questions to get a better understanding of the diets these workers have (name initials are given to protect their identities):

How long have you been a craftsman?

KH: Five years.

BS: Nine years.

JJ: Four years.

Are you ever hungry on the job?

If yes: Have you ever been so hungry on the job that it has caused you to feel faint, weak, less focused, or unmotivated?

KH: Yes, only if I haven't prepared a meal beforehand or didn't pick up food in the morning.

BS and JJ: Yes, if it's a busy day and we don't get a chance to eat.

Do you believe your motivation as a worker would improve if you had a better diet? Why/why not?

KH: Sure, it would give me more energy throughout the day if I had a more nutritious meal, rather than eating a slice of pizza or a deli sandwich, which just makes you tired and groggy compared to a meat-and-potatoes type meal with vegetables.

JJ: Yeah, I mean, you can't really live off of gas station food. Most of us agree that we'll do the job no matter what, but we'd definitely feel better from better meal sources.

What measures do you think should be taken to ensure that you and your coworkers get at least one decent meal per day on the job?

KH: We should probably cook more at home rather than picking up sandwiches at a deli, pretty much.

BS: It would be nice to have more help in the home to help me make food for the week.

Looking Forward

From what I could gather, construction workers are most definitely aware of the health concerns regarding their diets at work. If they're lucky, they have at least one large meal waiting for them when they come home, usually prepared by a spouse or other family member. But is it enough?

Most of the workers who answered my questions didn't necessarily feel as though the industry itself could do anything to improve the food conditions. To wrap everything up, both literally and figuratively, they agreed on one thing: more time on their days off to prepare weekly meals would be a key factor in improving their personal eating habits.  

garlic, chicken
Jessica Murphy